Court of Appeal vindicates journalist and dismisses libel claim brought by former Flying Squad officer
The Court of Appeal today allowed the appeal of journalist Graeme McLagan against the dismissal of his qualified privilege defence in a libel action brought by a former police officer over the book Bent Coppers.
After the trial of the author’s Reynolds defence as a preliminary issue in July 2006, Mr Justice Gray had decided the defence was not available as the author had not demonstrated that it was responsible journalism.
Today’s appeal verdict reverses that decision and puts an end to the libel action brought against the book which examined the history of the Metropolitan Police’s battle against corruption in its ranks.
Michael Charman, a former detective constable in the Met, sued Mr McLagan and publishers Orion contending that the book alleged that there were cogent grounds for suspecting that he had taken a corrupt payment of some £50,000 from a criminal and informant.
In the first Reynolds case since the restatement of the law by the House of Lords in Jameel v Wall Street Journal, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Judge at the trial had been wrong to refuse the defence of qualified privilege.
Lord Justice Ward, giving the lead judgment, recognised the importance of giving proper weight to the judgment of the journalist and warned of the dangers of hindsight:
“Where opinions may reasonably differ over the details which are needed to convey the general message, then deference has to be paid to the editorial decisions of the author, journalist or editor… I do not see in [Gray J’s] judgment any sufficient allowance made for McLagan’s honesty, his expertise in the subject, his careful research, and his painstaking evaluation of a mass of material… I am totally satisfied that this was a piece of responsible journalism. As Lord Bingham said in Jameel: ‘It might be thought that this was the sort of neutral investigative journalism which Reynolds privilege exists to protect.'”
The Police Federation, who backed Mr Charman’s claim, will now face a costs bill estimated to be in excess of £2m.
Speaking after the judgment was given, Graeme McLagan said:
“This is a victory for solid, responsible investigative journalism. Exposing police corruption is obviously in the public interest… It continues to surprise me that the Police Federation, the ‘trade union’ of the lower ranks, should have given such support to a man who was required to resign by the Metropolitan Police for discreditable conduct.”
Mr McLagan’s solicitor, Caroline Kean from Wiggin LLP added:
“For too long newspapers and book publishers have been deterred from publishing serious investigative journalism by the threat of incredibly complex and expensive libel proceedings if they made the slightest error. This judgment is a breath of fresh air, building on the decision last year by the House of Lords in Jameel which expressly stated that the defamation laws should encourage, rather than discourage, serious journalism.”
Click here for the 5RB case report and full judgment.